Venturing Towards The Pitch: Silicon Valley Presentation Strategies With Monica Phillips

by | Apr 9, 2020 | Podcasts

SWGR 518 | Venture Capitalists


For many companies, getting things off the ground wouldn’t have been possible without the support provided by securing venture capitalists. While these venture capitalists have cultivated their own culture and reputation, they’re still among your best bets for securing the money you need to turn your dream into a reality. Monica Phillips is the President and Founder of Spark Plug Labs, which coaches leaders and teams on culture, belonging, and inclusion. Monica shares what she has learned from her experiences in coaching people on their presentations with Elizabeth Bachman. Let Monica’s experiences guide you to refining your pitch for your possible new investors.

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Venturing Towards The Pitch: Silicon Valley Presentation Strategies With Monica Phillips

Monica Phillips is the President and Founder of Spark Plug Labs, which is the spark that ignites inspiration and leads people to action. She’s a Certified Professional Coactive Coach and a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation. She has a very diverse background, which includes working as a mediator across cultural consultants, a journalist, a sales leader and a marketing director. She’s also the host of a podcast called Powerful Conversations. It features interviews with thought leaders from across industries. Her passion is to create a work culture where everybody has the best job ever. She coaches high potential individuals and teams on leadership, business development, rainmaker habits, team culture, innovation and status quo, and heart-based leadership. She also partners with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. She’s a foodie, a runner, a Yogi, a mom and explorer. She loves to find beauty and joy in daily life. She’s a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, but she’s also lived in France, Minnesota, New York and Washington, DC.

Monica, welcome.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth. I’m glad to be here.

Monica, if you were to share the stage with and speak with someone from history, who would it be? What would you talk about and who would you like to have in the audience? 

I interviewed a woman, Julie Des Jardins, who recently wrote a book called American Queenmaker about Missy Meloney. She was very influential in lifting the professions of many US Presidents. She also was very close to Marie Curie.

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsIn case we have an audience who don’t know who Marie Curie was.

Madame Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry, the only woman to do that. She won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery for radon, which is what we use to treat cancer still. Her husband died very early on Pierre Curie in 1906. Marie Curie was a single mom raising her two girls and lived a very low-income life. Meanwhile, the chemical companies in the US that were using radon were making millions of dollars in profits from her discovery.

When was this?

It was 1906, I can’t remember exactly. I know that her second Nobel Prize was later in the 1920s. I don’t have all the facts in front of me. It is fascinating for me because during this time when she couldn’t even access the element that she discovered radon because it was too expensive. This woman, Missy Meloney, used her influence in Washington, DC to acquire radon for Marie Curie to continue to do more work in her lab. After reading Marie Curie’s biography in fourth grade, it was a big part of my passion to study science. I’m not very fond of this expression of, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Reading this book about her work and not knowing at that time so much about her being a single mother and that side of her, but her discoveries and her influence on the science world inspired me so much that I took Physics in high school. I won some awards. I studied Physics. I was one of two women in Physics in my freshman year at Cal Poly. I then switched my major because it wasn’t my passion and I found other things.

I am always passionate about science. I’m a science around the periphery. I love to learn about it and engage and that’s where my journalism influence comes in. I’m able to ask great questions, find out how it’s helping people and then be that Missy Meloney to other Madame Curies to say, “How can I bring the influence that this person needs to get the information they want?” To answer your question a little more directly, I would love to share the stage with Marie Curie. It would be an incredible honor and the audience would be anyone. A lot of people from all ages in breaking down this gender barrier of women in STEM, I wouldn’t want it to be anyone type of person. To say that these discoveries and this opportunity to find something and work hard for purpose can come from anywhere and that she gave it for me.

I was one of the two girls in my high school Physics class. Mostly because that was the year they decided they were going to do self-paced science. Only the science jocks wound up making it through freshman science. Everyone else had to do freshman science again. I said, “I’m bound and determined to get my science requirement over with because I am a theater person. In spite of myself, I learned a few things so that was good. Monica, part of the things I love about talking to you is you are well-known in Silicon Valley. You are an influencer, leader and an executive coach at Silicon Valley. You were selected by the Silicon Valley Business Journal as a Woman of Influence. You’re known for creating stages for others to share their message. That’s the Missy Meloney thing, and how to create stages for others to come together in a powerful way. Could you tell me more about that?

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsWhen I moved back to Silicon Valley, I had been living in Washington, DC, it was 2013. I moved across the country and launched my business. I’m a single mom, my son was four at that time and it was good. Ignorance is bliss in a sense. I didn’t know what I should or shouldn’t do too much so that I jumped in and immerse myself completely. I had been working with a group in Washington, DC called MobileMonday. It started in the Nokia Finland days. It’s a nonprofit that brings people together around anything mobile, think cell phone, connected home, mobile devices, IoT, everything. Now, everything is mobile, the options to discuss any mobile connectivity issue is almost everything in technology. I was part of this group. I came to San Francisco and I met with the founder here, Mario Tapia and I helped organize events, moderate panels and bring people together. We started doing these CXO dinners. Chief Privacy Officer, Chief Information Officer, anyone who was in that C-Suite who had insights that they wanted to share with a specific group. We’d get a sponsor and we’d get 20 to 30 people. Thirty is the large side. We kept it to 25.

What inspired me was these people who seem to know so much about one thing, we’re the only person in their company doing that. When you get the Chief Privacy Officer from Intel, Yelp, Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and all of these different companies together, they get to deepen that insight and they feel good. What I was witnessing was when they got to come together and share what they were working on, they felt valued. I see this on all levels. I see this with my mother who’s now 71. She will bring things to my son and he’s not always excited about it, but I have to let him know like, “This is her value. She is passing down this opportunity for you to create something new with this. That’s the value that she gets to share with you.” I found that there’s so much power in having people come together and they feel heard, seen and they’re in a safe space. That’s what I have found is more important than anything else. I tried to do that as much as possible. It’s why I launched my podcast.

It makes me think then of the value of being able to speak well and the value of knowing how to be on a panel because giving a speech and being on a panel are two different things. A lot of people blow off the panels. We’ve got a podcast on this series about how to be a dynamite panel guest and moderator too. You’ve created opportunities to do that. Being able to do that is presentation skill. I’m sure you had some boring people too.

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsI’ve only had one total flop. I do a lot of work before I interview people and I find out what their passions are. A lot like you, I dig into what they do outside of what pays them and how they spend their time, where they would spend their time if they didn’t have to get paid. Would it be different or the same? I bring that in and then I witnessed what they’re not saying. Often, I’ll find an article about someone and I’ll connect it to something else they’re doing professionally whereas there is a strong connection in their value system. It comes back to values and belonging for me. When people feel like they belong, there’s resonance and they operate at a higher level. It fits into even in the workplace when you have a leader of a team and they are maybe not fitting in at the C-Suite. There is discord and it’s hard for them to get their message delivered correctly because they’re not being felt like they’re being heard.

Talk a little bit more about what you’re doing with founders and helping people give presentations. For those who have not lived in the Silicon Valley bubble, talk a little bit about the role of the founder, who they are and who they aren’t? Why is pitching to venture capital, what that is and what that isn’t? 

A founder can be anyone. The difference between a founder and someone who doesn’t go create something is that the founder took action. One of my favorite quotes is, “Clarity comes through action, not thoughts.” I could have been a founder in my head 25 times minimum by now, but I haven’t taken the action to make any of those ideas come to be a company. It does take a lot of hard work. There’s another line I love which is, “It’s great to be the founder of your own company because you get to pick any fourteen hours a day you want to work.”

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsOnly fourteen hours?

I do believe in holistic personal reflection. More than that is unsafe or will burn you out too much. Fourteen hours is a lot. There are founders who do even so much more than that and it’s not safe but it is a lot of work. I’d say even fourteen hours is a lot of work. It’s more than most people are willing to give. When you hear things like the average American watches TV four hours a day, I’m thinking, “I don’t know who does that, who has time for that?” I realize that’s probably true. It’s scary but founders are not doing that. They’re completely immersed in the opportunity to grow a business.

They’re doing market analysis. They’re connecting madly with people who are going to help advise them, who’ve done parts of what they’re doing, to guide them in connecting with the right people, whether it’s manufacturing, software, or engineers, all of those people who are going to create a team. It’s understanding their value and vision that they have. It’s connecting with coaches. I’m mentoring actively with The Founder Institute and they are early-stage companies. Sometimes they have something a little further along, often it’s at the idea stage. They create this business during the course of the program. They’re connected to mentors and coaches and then they pitch to venture capitalists.

What’s your advice to pitching to a venture capitalist?

My first piece of advice is to memorize the first 30 seconds of what you’re going to say. I say that because what I find across all kinds of people who are presenting, not founders, there’s a nervousness that dissipates when you have the first 30 seconds memorize. Most often, the first 30 seconds is, “I’m so excited to be here now to tell you about X, Y, Z.” It’s not much more than that. Once you do that, you know this is what I’m going to walk into and say. You’re not looking at your notes. You’re not fumbling on your computer. You’re not worried about the technology. The second piece is don’t worry about the technology. It might fail and don’t waste twenty minutes of someone’s time trying to figure out how to get your slides up. Always have a backup. If there’s something you need, print it and print it for everyone who’s going to be in the meeting. If you’re going to use slides, make them visual.

I have many clients who do lists.

People of all ages are breaking down the barrier for women in STEM. Click To Tweet

Don’t read exactly what you wrote on the slide. I saw a presentation where the founder overcomplicated it. He had technical slides and no one in the room knew what the pictures were, maybe one person did. I certainly didn’t. I was trying to figure out what the slides were instead of hearing the content and the delivery got fumbled. Make it simple. For VCs, they want to know what your passion is. Why you? What the market space is? There is this myth. It’s not so much of a myth that venture capitalists want to invest in somebody that’s going to 10X their money. What is the market share? Why is your product going to work? Who is your team? How far along are you? What testing have you done? What engagement do you have? Depending on the stage and what kind of money you’re looking for? What revenue do you have? There are a lot of resources online that answers that show specifically what you should do. Any great accelerator incubator will walk the founders through this program of what you should have in your pitch deck. If anyone is thinking of going to that stage, they should be involved in a program like this to get that advice.

At the end of the day, it’s who you know and how are you connecting with them? Venture capitalists are people like everyone else. I know several and it’s not because I founded a company and I’m doing something that people can’t wait to meet me. It’s because I made the effort to go meet them. I learned something about the person. I gave them a reason to connect with me. I invited them to engage around some intellectual topic that made them feel valued and seen. I gave positive praise for the books they wrote, whatever that might be. I’m finding a way to connect with that person. I love using LinkedIn to connect. There are many other ways, but I’ll often start with LinkedIn to see who I know, see what they’re engaged in, see where that person might be speaking. If they’re speaking somewhere, hear them speak and then meet them. If you can’t, for whatever reason, then you say, “I saw you speak. I was hoping to meet you. I would love to connect. I have these two questions.” It’s one question, maybe these three questions, but no more than that. Be specific. Don’t say, “I want to meet you, talk to you and learn about you because you’re so fascinating.” Have a specific request.

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsIf there’s someone who might give you money, they’re going to assume that you want to meet them to get some money or get some advice. Don’t pretend that you want to get to know them and talk about where they shop or, “Let’s take our dogs for a walk,” or something like that. The other thing that I’ve found is a lot of my Silicon Valley clients, I’ve heard lots of founders who say, “I’m a founder and I’m a rainmaker in Silicon Valley.” Talk a little bit about the perspective of being a rainmaker and what does that mean if you’re a rainmaker? 

I have coached executives on being a rainmaker for many years. It was 1998 at a law firm. I created a coaching program for lawyers to bring in new business. We had enormous success. I continued doing more of that or less than that, depending on my role. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of it. My favorite part of this idea of being a rainmaker is to reframe it. As a coach, I focus a lot on perspectives.

A rainmaker in a traditional definition is someone who brings in a lot of business. They are well-connected and they are able to close a deal. It’s not just, “I know hundreds of people.” I know hundreds of people who are going to put their money behind me. That’s a rainmaker. It’s being able to have the influence to get to a decision. However, I have met many people who say, “Monica, I am not a rainmaker. I couldn’t possibly. I don’t know-how. That’s not my personality type.” There are all kinds of assumptions about what a rainmaker is. That person who goes out, schmoozes all day, goes to parties and networks, is up late at night, meeting people, wining and dining and wheeling and dealing. That is not a rainmaker. That could be a rainmaker but that is not the definition of a rainmaker.

A rainmaker is someone who has good relationships, they have influence, conviction and loyalty so that those connections believe in them and back them with money. It’s usually with money. There’s a purchasing decision. They’re selling something. Sales is not a bad word. It has become a bad word because people say like, “I don’t want to be sold to.” A rainmaker is someone who creates a relationship of trust and allows that person to come into their circle because they are offering value.

Can you say that you are a rainmaker or is that something that people say about you?

It's hard to deliver your message correctly when you don't feel you're being heard. Click To Tweet

I am a highly successful salesperson and I would call myself a rainmaker in a sense. It’s not the word I used to define myself because my focus is on giving value to others. In doing that, I have created that for myself.

It sounds like bragging. 

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsIt’s funny to call oneself a rainmaker. It is a skill that one can learn. The way I see it is the ultimate successful rainmaker creates a world around them in which they thrive because they have happy people in their network who are excited about what they do. At the end of the day, they don’t have to say, “I’m a rainmaker, I’ve got $20 million in new business.” I would say that’s a salesperson to differentiate a little bit like someone who’s focused completely on bottom-line revenue sales versus someone who’s focused on creating space to allow them to do their best work.

It’s an interesting perspective. You’re talking about the perspective of being a rainmaker and you’ve defined it quite well. Why is the word perspective important?

Much of what I do is I coached people who would have nothing to do with sales become engaged and good at sales. It’s this perspective of what is the value you want to offer to the world. If no one’s buying it, are you offering value? Probably not. If you want to connect with your ideal customer, you need to show up for that customer. You need to create a loyalty circle. Nelson Mandela had this what he called it Praise Singers. People who came up onto the stage before him to sing the praises of the great man you were about to see. I think of this term of Praise Singer a lot like social media where you’ve got this reverberating effect of something you share, but more often friends, fans, people who love what you do so much.

They want to see you succeed and they’re going to give you great reviews, they’re going to share your information with their networks. You’re going to have this 10X effect of the power and the value that you offer because you have people who love how you show up for them. Rainmakers don’t have to be the one doing all of that themselves. It doesn’t have to be lonely and isolating. You don’t have to think about what I’m going to get in the end. You have to show up with this heart-based leadership, authentic and fulfilling work and give it to others who want to share how great you are.

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsMonica Phillips, it is such a delight to talk with you. I’m excited because we get to do this twice. We’re going to do two interviews because you sent me many things to talk about that’s fabulous. We’re going to have another conversation about international conversation, cross-cultural communication and leadership in that sphere. Tell us first how can we learn more? How can we get more information from you?

My website is All the links are there from my blog and my podcast. My podcast is Powerful Conversations. If you search Powerful Conversations by Monica Phillips, you’ll find it on Spotify, on iTunes and all across any of the podcasts stores, on LinkedIn, Facebook and it’s @PowerfulConversations on Instagram.

Monica, thank you so much for joining us. Let me remind you if you’re interested in speaking to get better results, go to, where you can see where your strengths are and where you could use a little help. I’ll see you at the next one.


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About Monica Phillips

SWGR 518 | Venture CapitalistsMonica Phillips is the President & Founder of Spark Plug Labs, the spark that ignites inspiration and leads people to action. She is a Certified Professional Coactive Coach and a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation. Her diverse background includes working as a mediator, a cross-cultural consultant, a journalist, a sales leader, and a marketing director.

She is the host of a podcast, Powerful Conversations, featuring interviews with thought-leaders from across industries. Her passion is to create a work culture where everyone has the best job ever. She coaches high potential individuals and teams on leadership, business development, rainmaker habits, team culture, innovation and status quo, and heart-based leadership. She partners with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. She is a foodie, runner, yogi, mom, explorer and loves to find beauty and joy in daily life.

Follow her @bodegabay1 or connect on LinkedIn or Facebook. A Bay Area native, she has also lived in France, Minnesota, New York, and Washington, DC.